Editor's Note: In February we are going to present a series of articles on safely traveling with your horse. While this might seem like a strange month to address this topic, just like gardeners get their seed catalogs before planting season, these articles should help you plan for the start of your hauling season before the season begins.
The tow vehicle is key to safe horse travel, so you’ll want to make sure it’s up to the task. Neva Scheve, owner of EquiSpirit Trailers and author of The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer, said that you’d do well to have a pre-determined idea of how much weight you plan to haul and whether you’ll be doing local or long-distance travel before you pick out that pickup.
By way of example, she said the average two-horse trailer will weigh about 2,500 pounds, but you need to calculate the total loaded weight.
“A couple of thousand pounds of horses, plus gear, hay, etc., could easily top five thousand pounds,” said Scheve.
She said if you will be making short trips on relatively level ground, you may be able to get by with less truck than you’d need if you live in the Rockies; however, it makes the most sense to have a truck that can handle the worst conditions you might encounter, as well as allowing for some growth in your family of horses.
Long-distance travel on the other hand, requires different ground rules. Scheve said you should keep in mind that driving over 45 MPH will increase engine strain, as will pulling a loaded trailer up long, steep inclines.
“In addition, high altitudes and high winds may have a decided effect on your vehicle’s performance,”she said.
Scheve said you should note that wheel-base size plays a central role in the stability of your vehicle.
“The greater the wheel-base, the less likely you are to fishtail on the road," she explained. "Naturally, hauling larger numbers of horses increases the need for a greater tow rating and length of wheel-base.”
Manufacturers provide information about each truck’s qualifications, including maximum gross trailer weight and wheel-base information designed to help you determine your immediate and future needs. Also, if you live where mountainous terrain dominates, you might want to think about having a vehicle with a more powerful engine in order for it to withstand the strain of carrying a heavy load up and down hills.
Although many states only require a separate braking system for trailers that have a gross weight of more than 1,500 pounds, Scheve recommended that you install a separate braking system in any towing vehicle. There are two basic types: electronically controlled brakes or surge brakes.
Electronically controlled brakes work in conjunction with the trailer brakes and can be activated either automatically or manually through a control box placed within reach of the driver.
“Owing to the amount of weight you’ll be hauling, this is the safest way to go,” said Scheve. Because the brakes are connected to both your vehicle and the trailer, you effectively cut your stopping distance in half [when compared to surge brakes] should there be a loss of power in the trailer.”
Keep in mind that this system needs to be outfitted with a special controlling device and additional wiring for electrical power.
Surge brakes are independent hydraulic brakes that are triggered by a master cylinder at the junction of the hitch and trailer tongue. They are independent from the hydraulic fluid in the tow vehicle’s brake system and should never be connected. Although they are less expense than electronically controlled brakes, surge brakes should only be used to tow light weight, such as a one-horse trailer.
Check to make sure that your tow vehicle brakes conform to your state’s safety regulations.